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Multi-Operator Qualitative Behavioural Assessment for dogs entering the shelter

Menchetti, Laura, Righi, Cecilia, Guelfi, Gabriella, Enas, Claudia, Moscati, Livia, Mancini, Stefania, Diverio, Silvana
Applied animal behaviour science 2019 v.213 pp. 107-116
acclimation, animal behavior, animal rescue shelters, cages, coping strategies, dogs, social environment, veterinarians, welfare assessment
This study aimed to develop and validate a fast and straightforward welfare assessment system to help shelter staff in decision-making processes. For newly captured dogs entering the shelter, the animal control officer (at capture time) and the veterinary officer (at entrance examination) compiled a form attributing a qualitative score for the overall Stress level and for 5 Descriptors of dog behavioural traits. Furthermore, a tester filled out the same form by subjecting the dog to a test battery in his pen, besides performing behavioural observations. The veterinary officer and the tester repeated the evaluation protocol after four weeks of acclimatisation in the shelter. The analysis evaluated inter-observer and test–retest reliability, internal consistency, and construct validity of qualitative scores. Overall, we collected 258 forms regarding 189 dogs. Principal component (PC) extracted by Descriptors showed a good correlation with the Stress level score for veterinary and tester confirming the internal consistency of these scales while it was low for animal control officer form. Moreover, qualitative evaluations of the veterinarian and the tester showed congruent correlations with behavioural observations supporting their construct validity. Conversely, the scores expressed by the animal control officer were not consistent with quantitative observations. Then, the veterinary officer and tester forms could be validated and further simplified including only Stress level score while the control officer form requires a revision as it does not seem reliable. We did not find agreement between the Stress level scores expressed by animal control officer, veterinary and tester suggesting that the three contexts represent different stress stimuli to which the same dog reacts differently. The point of view of the three evaluators can increase the reliability of the assessment. Static but vigilant behaviours prevailed in newly sheltered dogs but activity, interactions and behavioural diversity increased in the second behavioural observation when the dogs were kept in multiple cages and four weeks of adaptation had passed. Stress level reduced and PCs tended towards the pole of sociability suggesting a reduction of stress after the period of adaptation to the socio-environmental conditions of the shelter. On the other hand, the considerable inter-individual variability in behaviours reflects differences in coping strategies and or in the manifestation of stress. Our simple tool can not replace a multidisciplinary approach to welfare assessment but could help shelter staff for individual management of dogs complying with their different adaptation skills.